Augmented Reality Storytelling, or the Elephant in the Room

Aidan Wolf
Mar 30, 2018 · 4 min read

You’re holding in your hands your very first Hololens, Magic Leap, or AR-enabled smartphone. The potential of the technology appears limitless, and you excitingly start dreaming up your most idyllic AR experience.

Before you know it, you have a story centering around some heroic origin story, skillful hand-to-hand combat, a camel caravan across the Sahara, and plenty of twisting, tumbling character arcs. Excited and pre-tested in your mind, you look up at the room around you and suddenly the reality creeps in:

“How could I ever tell this story in this room, this building, or even in this city?”

“Wouldn’t this be a better VR experience anyways?”

“What if the user doesn’t even stand up?”

And like that, the horrible weight of reality comes crushing down on your beautiful epic.

But it’s not hopeless, I promise!

Today we’re going to discuss what AR storytelling is and isn’t, the importance of presentation, placement, timing, and adaptability, and hopefully by end you will feel confident enough to charge right into your first AR experience.

#1: AR experiences shouldn’t feel like experiences

AR can be exciting, immersive, and magical, but it still must adhere to reality, it must blend into the fabric of one’s life. The most important aspect of this to grasp is the majority of the elements in your scene are immutable: you can’t swap the backdrop, the “extras”, or the props, you must embrace them, and better yet, adapt to or incorporate them into the story.

For context, think of Poe’s “The Raven” — think of how much story results in the appearance of a single nevermore-ing bird. Imagine for your own story what boiling curiosity you could manifest with the presentation of just one augmented character, or from something as simple as a knock on one’s real life door. This approach may seem self-limiting, or difficult to implement, but it’s the key to telling a good augmented reality story in augmented reality.

So in presentation, your story may not be entirely world-changing, but that’s the point.

#2: Start with rabbit holes

The raven does not demand the narrator’s attention, it earns it, and is the precipice on which the whole story teeters. Let’s call this a rabbit hole, an unassuming character, object, or interaction that captures one’s curiosity, and if pursued, on the other side one will find “Wonderland”, or the greater, more immersive and demanding AR experience. In the context of mobile AR, a rabbit hole could simply be a well-timed push notification.

So when designing your rabbit hole, consider the time of day, the place, and the non-AR activities your story could potentially become involved with:

A seat alone at a coffee shop could be a great opportunity to introduce a new character, a park walk could become a treacherous round of combat, and one’s own bed could be a place to receive nightly visions from the beyond.

In placement and timing, think about all the ways your story can embed itself in a user’s everyday life.

#3: Build like kids play

The best way to approach AR storytelling is to observe kid’s at play, or remember back to your own childhood: Stuffed animals become friends and foes, cardboard and scotch tape becomes Iron Man armor, household hallways become spaceship corridors, and so on and so on.

A kid’s imagination is boundless and adapting constantly, which means to an impossible extreme, the best AR experiences will too. Think of how many different mediums of storytelling are incorporated in just 5 minutes of kid’s play, from spoken words to drawing to pretending and puppeteering.

In adaptability, think less about what you can superimpose on a user’s world, and more about how you can use their world to tell your story.

In Closing…

Many hurdles of AR storytelling still reside in the technology, so for many of us, we’ll still need visual positioning, object recognition, and more accessible AI/ML to be able to tell our best stories. Excitingly, we are closer than ever to this reality. Months, not years away.

Future forward, expect AR storytelling, just like child’s play, to be that of constant cross-pollination, where our characters and stories intermix within a gigantic meta-story paralleled only by life itself. Our characters will feel more like friends, involving themselves in more than just their programming, and will build real relationships with other characters and possibly even our own real life friends. In the minds of our users, these stories will feel more like memories, and be more personal than any other medium could hope to achieve, with real, real life impact. Hopefully you find this as exciting as I do!

So idioms aside, I hope you feel more confident..

..literally putting an elephant in the room.

I’m Aidan Wolf, a pursuant AR dev and storyteller trying to figure out the better ways to tell immersive stories in the real world.

Follow me on Twitter at @Aidan_Wolf to keep up with our projects!

Bye for now! 👋

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual reality

Aidan Wolf

Written by

I like to write about things I care about.

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual reality

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